Test your Mars exploration knowledge
November 22nd, 2011
10:11 AM ET

Test your Mars exploration knowledge

With NASA's "Curiosity" rover due to launch on November 26, Mars exploration is once again on the space agenda.

"Curiosity" - full name Mars Science Laboratory "Curiosity" - will search for signs that Mars is, or ever was, able to support microbial life.

But even as the Science Laboratory is being prepared for launch, more missions to the Red Planet are being planned and new technologies are being researched that will allow ever more information about Mars to be collected.

Take our quiz and find out how much you know about the future of Mars exploration.

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Filed under: Hardware in Orbit • In Space
World's smallest car fuels nanotech advance
A CGI of the electric-powered nano car created by Dutch researchers
November 22nd, 2011
10:09 AM ET

World's smallest car fuels nanotech advance

A tiny nano-sized car which can propel itself forward in response to electrical pulses has been created by scientists in the Netherlands.

The electric-powered vehicle, which is the size of a single molecule, has a chassis and four paddle-shaped wheels and is roughly one-billionth the size of a traditional hatchback car.

Its maiden journey wasn't exactly epic - six nanometers - and its fuel-efficiency wasn't world-beating either, needing a jolt of 500 millivolts every half revolution of its wheels.

FULL STORY from CNN.com

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Filed under: Discoveries
Three astronauts return safely to Earth
Astronaut Mike Fossum smiles as he is carried in a chair to the medical tent just minutes after landing in Kazakhstan.
November 22nd, 2011
09:14 AM ET

Three astronauts return safely to Earth

Three astronauts returned safely to Earth on Tuesday after spending almost six months in space, NASA said.

Cmdr. Mike Fossum and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa and Sergei Volkov landed their spacecraft in Kazakhstan early in the morning. They had been at the International Space Station since June 9.

The aircraft landed on its side, which was not unexpected, NASA said, adding that Fossum smiled as he was carried out.

Before leaving the station, Fossum turned over command to Dan Burbank, NASA said. Burbank, along with Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, took off for the space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on November 14.

The mission is Burbank's third visit to the space station, but the first for Shkaplerov and Ivanishin.

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Filed under: In Space
November 22nd, 2011
08:58 AM ET

Behind the scenes of the 'search for life'

John Zarrella’s series "Search for Life" premieres this week on CNN.

The Kepler telescope finds a planet circling two suns, right out of "Star Wars." Data from the Galileo mission suggest that a body of liquid water the size of the Great Lakes is on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter finds sand dunes rippling across the planet’s surface.

Every day, NASA pours out press releases with fascinating, sometimes groundbreaking revelations. The problem is, much of it flies under the radar, getting absorbed, minimalized and shoved aside in the noise of events around the world. Unless you are addicted to Light Years (and I hope you are), you could easily miss this wonderful dessert NASA keeps serving up, a heavenly hash of sorts.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Discoveries
November 21st, 2011
06:21 PM ET

And then, maybe Einstein was right

Just when you got excited that Einstein may have been wrong about the speed of light, scientists have evidence suggesting maybe he was right after all, British media report.

The ICARUS collaboration at the Gran Sasso laboratory near Rome, Italy, has found that it is impossible for neutrinos to travel faster than the speed of light.

Still, it's not the final word on this subject.

Read more from the Guardian


Filed under: Discoveries
Giant Mars rover blasts off
November 21st, 2011
10:18 AM ET

Giant Mars rover blasts off

NASA’s biggest and most advanced Mars rover blasted off Saturday from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Curiosity is packed with 10 science experiments to determine whether Mars has ever been suitable for life and to find clues about past life forms that may have been preserved in rocks. NASA says Curiosity won’t answer the age-old questions about life on Mars, but it will provide important information that will guide future missions.

The launch was originally scheduled for Friday, but the mission team took an extra day to remove and replace a flight termination system battery, NASA said.

Curiosity is expected to spend about two years roaming Mars, hunting things researchers say are essential for life to grow: liquid water, key chemicals used by living organisms and an energy source.

The rover lifted off Saturday atop an Atlas V rocket and is scheduled to land in August 2012 in the Gale Crater.

Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as the older Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. Its science instruments weigh 15 times as much as its predecessors' science payloads.

The rover has a mast that can extend to 7 feet (2.1 meters) to hoist a high-definition imaging system. It also will hold a laser-equipped camera that can zap rocks to study the sparks emitted for information about their composition.

A 7-foot-long robot arm will hold instruments for soil analysis. Unlike earlier rovers, Curiosity can gather rocks and soil to process inside its lab. The rover also has tools to look for water beneath the surface, to monitor the weather and to measure natural radiation.

Curiosity is designed to roll over obstacles up to 25 inches (about 65 centimeters) high and to travel about 660 feet (200 meters) per day. Its energy source will be a radioisotope power generator.

Landing will be tricky because of the rover’s size. As it descends, the spacecraft will make S-curve maneuvers like those used by shuttle astronauts. Three minutes before touchdown, a parachute and retrorockets will slow the spacecraft. Then, seconds before touchdown, an upper stage will act like a sky crane, lowering the upright rover on a tether to the surface.

When Curiosity arrives at Mars, three satellites already in orbit will be listening: NASA’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Space Agency’s Mars Express. The spacecraft will be positioned to receive transmissions about Curiosity’s status and relay information to Earth.

NASA: Facts about the Mars science laboratory

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Filed under: In Space • News
November 18th, 2011
05:45 PM ET

Test confirms particles appear to travel faster than the speed of light

(CNN) – Travel faster than the speed of light? Really?

Back in September, scientists found that tiny particles called neutrinos appeared to do just that, defying Einstein’s special theory of relativity.

It could be a fluke, but now the same experiment has replicated the result. It’s not hard proof yet, though; other groups still need to confirm these findings.

Physicists with the OPERA (Oscillation Project with Emulsion-tRacking Apparatus) experiment said in September that neutrinos sent about 454 miles (730 kilometers) from CERN in Switzerland arrived at Italy’s Gran Sasso National Laboratory a fraction of a second sooner than they should have according to Einstein’s theory.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Discoveries • News • Science Education
New topographic map of Earth's moon released
November 18th, 2011
11:54 AM ET

New topographic map of Earth's moon released

Using data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) spacecraft, scientists have created the highest resolution topographic map of the moon in existence.

The map shows the surface shape and features over nearly the entire moon, according to researchers. It was composed from 69,000 stereo models from the Wide Angle Camera aboard the LRO.

This map covers 98.2% of the lunar surface; persistent shadows near the poles prevent a complete stereo map at the highest latitudes, NASA said. But another instrument on the LRO, called the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA), is very good at mapping at the poles, and can be used to fill in the gaps.

The colors on the map represent altitude.

Because of the limitations of instruments on previous spacecraft, a global map of the moon’s topography at high resolution has not been possible until now.

“Our new topographic view of the moon provides the data set that lunar scientists have waited for since the Apollo era,” according to a statement from Mark Robinson, principal investigator of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera at Arizona State University in Tempe.

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Filed under: In Space • News
#FollowFriday
November 18th, 2011
10:34 AM ET

#FollowFriday

Every Friday, @CNNLightYears will suggest interesting and exciting space and science Twitter accounts to follow.

To help you keep up with the news on solar flares, coronal mass ejections and other news from our Sun, @CNNLightYears suggests you follow the trio of accounts related to NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory.

@NASA_SDO
Managed by Goddard Spaceflight Center, @NASA_SDO posts the latest news about solar activity, straight from the source.

@Camilla_SDO
SDO has a mascot, @Camilla_SDO, affectionately known as the "space chicken." Camilla Corona SDO's goal is to spread the news about the SDO mission through education and outreach activities.

@NASA_SDO_EDU
The newest SDO account is @NASA_SDO_EDU, an account dedicated to supporting science teachers and others interested in STEM (science, technology, education and math) education.

You can also follow Twitter updates from @CNNLightYears.

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Filed under: News
Opinion: Make manned space flight great again
Ronald Garan moves a failed pump module from the orbiting space station to the shuttle Atlantis last July.
November 18th, 2011
08:00 AM ET

Opinion: Make manned space flight great again

Editor's note: Madhu Thangavelu is space projects director of the Cal-Earth Institute and a fellow at NASA's Institute of Advanced Concepts. He is an advisory board member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics with a focus on the design of complex space projects, including space stations and exploratory missions. He also teaches at the University of Southern California.
By Madhu Thangavelu, Special to CNN

Four decades after the first man walked on the moon, we continue to live in a time of great technological and social opportunity. And yet, without vision, lacking direction and in an apparent state of ennui, human space programs are withering around the world.

The new economic powerhouses of China and India show great promise, but I suspect it will take those great nations years of infrastructure building before they can pull off any major feats in this arena, while established rivals-turned-partners like Russia and the U.S. seem to have difficulties envisioning and executing great and exciting new missions.

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